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October 2, 2012Just a handful of games into his Division I career in Tempe, junior defensive tackle Mike Pennel's future with Arizona State is very much in doubt after Tuesday.
ASU coach Todd Graham announced after practice the Scottsdale Community College transfer was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
Graham declined to give the specific reasoning or possible length of the suspension.
"Not meeting our standards and that's it," he said. "We're never excited about stuff like that and it's difficult, but at the end of the day we're going to do things one way and that's the right way and that's how we're going to do it."
Graham also suspended Pennel for the Illinois game on Sept. 8 but the defensive tackle returned to action a week later against Missouri then Utah.
Appearing as if he was back in the good graces of the Sun Devil coaching staff, things boiled over last week against California when Pennel didn't see any action, spending the entire game on the bench.
After ASU sealed the win, Pennel took to his Twitter account to release his pent up emotion before the team had even boarded its plane back to Tempe.
"Wow glad we won but warming the bench is a new feeling for me," Pennel wrote. "How you expect me to smile when you disrespected me on national television."
Once the news came down Tuesday of his suspension, Pennel, who did not attend practice, went back on his account to express his remorse.
"It's unbelievable I've done this to my family, teammates and the ASU fans," he said. "I'll be a better person from this. I have no choice but to be."
Pennel, listed at 6-foot-5 and 355 pounds, was highly recruited out of junior college, receiving offers from the likes of Arkansas, Kansas State and West Virginia among others.
Entering the game without a reception all year, ASU junior college transfer tight end Darwin Rogers celebrated his 22nd birthday in style Saturday, collecting his first catch and first touchdown of his career in the first quarter with a one yard grab in the back of the endzone.
"It was exciting, my goal was to just play my role but they called a play for me and I ended up executing it," Rogers said. "[Sophomore quarterback Taylor Kelly] put it on the spot. It was an awesome birthday."
Rogers' teammates were thrilled for the upbeat tight end who they said is a great example of someone who has really bought into the team mantra.
"It was huge, I was really excited for him," Kelly said. "He had a smile from ear to ear. I was happy for him."
"That was great, it had been coming open for him," ASU junior tight end Chris Coyle said. "It was the perfect scenario. He was pumped, just a good day for him."
Rogers admitted his first catch of the season came a little later than he anticipated, but he's thankful to help in any way possible.
"You have to be patient and when you get your opportunity, just make the most of it and make plays," he said. "You can't rush to anything, you have to work your way to it."
Liberal with timeouts
Watching the Sun Devils over the first five weeks of the season, a common theme has been the way the ASU coaching staff uses its allotment of timeouts.
For the most part, it has been early and often. But according to Graham, that's for a reason.
"Earlier in the year we were playing Illinois and I took a timeout, we would have gotten scored on had we not taken that timeout because we were lined up wrong," the coach said. "So we're going to take those timeouts in the first half. We've had way too many of those, but that's part of it. I think it's part of the newness and learning and those types of things."
Another explanation Graham provided insinuated he believes certain stretches early in games are more critical than time preserving efforts at the end of them. Put simply: If the timeouts save the Sun Devils a score or gives them a score, it's worth burning one regardless of the time on the clock.
"Momentum is such a factor, you ever watch basketball?" Graham said. "It's like you've got to call that timeout to kill that momentum and I kind of felt from our kids like that. We're having those timeouts and as time goes by we'll have less of them."
Shanking two field goals and having one blocked all inside the 40 yard line on Saturday, ASU sophomore kicker Alex Garoutte was fortunate the Sun Devils left Berkeley with a victory, or else a large portion of the blame likely would've been placed on his shoulders.
On the season, Garoutte is 6-for-10 but ASU hasn't been in a game decided by field goals yet, save for the Missouri contest in which reserve quarterback Ryan Woods dropped a PAT snap.
But with conference play heating up, Graham believes field goals will almost certainly determine an outcome at some point down the stretch.
"We've got to kick the ball of course, we can't miss three field goals inside 40 yards and they know that," Graham said. "We've got to get better. We cannot have that. I told them today, I believe a special teams play will be the difference in a ballgame."
Graham wouldn't commit to Garoutte being the team's kicker when it next takes the field at Colorado, but it appears the sophomore's job is safe for now at least.
"Every day is a competition," Graham said. "I've got great belief in our guys and what they're doing. Really I think some of the stuff is being distracted, a new snapper, a new holder, 90 percent of it is mental. But it's been a competition all along, it was a competition before that so we'll see how it goes."
With the Sun Devils enjoying their bye week leading up to their game against the Buffaloes, most ASU coaches will be on the road at some point in between practices, visiting potential recruits for the staff's first true class in Tempe.
"We had a lot of our guys out yesterday, most of our guys, and we'll use all of our opportunities," Graham said. "We're using a bunch of them this week with the bye week because the way the schedule is, this is it."
Armed with a 4-1 record to sell the program, the coaches think all of ASU's early victories will help during their trips.
"The best thing you can do with recruiting is win," Graham said. "If you win, recruiting all takes care of itself if you're working hard. Win a championship and it'll be easy."
Still, while trying to persuade the new crop into Sun Devil uniforms, the staff will continue to go about its typical duties even though the coaches won't be at home.
"Guys out on the road will also have their laptops and they're watching practice and getting ready for what we're doing," Graham said. "It's a balance and it's part of it but recruiting, personnel, is the single most important thing that we do, that I do, so I'll be out."
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